Why is it that we focus on the quality of the canter, the lateral work, the medium paces, and all too often completely forget about the halt? Even when you’re up there competing against the Laura Graves’ and Isabell Werths of the world, you’ll still have to ride two square halts in every test.
For Dressage riders, a good halt is an easy way to gain extra marks. On the same note, it’s a silly place to lose marks! One particularly redeeming feature of a square halt is that everybody can work on and perfect it. It doesn’t matter if you’re riding the next Valegro or a rescued crossbreed, there’s nothing stopping you from riding the halt as if you’re aiming for a 10!
Because the halt has no impulsion, riders often struggle to get a good feel for it. It should be a basic movement, but it’s actually quite easy to get wrong as there’s nowhere to hide. On top of that, it can be quite hard to feel what the halt looks like from the saddle. This is where a video camera or helper on the ground is invaluable!
So, how do you get a halt that wows the judges?
What Does a Good Halt Look Like?
A good halt should be completely straight, with the horse submissive to the bit and attentive to the rider, ready to move off in whatever gait is asked for. The horse should make a rectangle with a ‘leg in each corner’ meaning that both back legs are in line with each other, both front legs are in line with each other, and both the front and hind leg on each side are in line with each other too. The back legs should also be engaged and under the body, not trailing out of the back end. Ideally, the horse should halt with the hooves parallel to the shoulders and hips, not base narrow or base wide.
Some of the Most Common Problems in Halt
There’s a few things that crop up repeatedly when it comes to schooling the halt. Some are easier fixes than others, but all of them take patience!
Some issues you might come across while you’re working on riding a square and straight halt include:
- The horse ‘leaving a leg behind’ with one hind leg stretched out behind the hind quarters
- The horse not halting square in front, with one foreleg in front of the other (usually by half a step or one step)
- The horse resisting the bridle; snatching, hollowing, or similar
- The horse becoming inattentive by moving, fidgeting, or looking around
- Not halting straight – i.e. with the shoulders or quarters swinging to the side
Learning to Ride a Straight and Square Halt
Now comes the harder part of actually riding the halt correctly! While you can make small corrections within the halt itself, it is important to remember that the transition to halt is the important part. This is almost always true when preparing to change gaits, but because you don’t “carry on” in halt after making the transition the same way you would in other changes of gait, it’s even more important.
First, understand that a good halt requires a few things:
- The horse needs to be travelling straight
- The horse needs to be engaged from behind
- The horse needs to accept the contact
- All in all, the horse needs to come into the halt in good balance.
Keep in mind at all times that the transition from canter, trot, or walk to halt is ridden forward from behind. That doesn’t mean you should rush the transition. In fact, you should take your time with it. But, the actual process of halting has to start from the horse’s hindquarters, not from pulling the reins and hauling on the horse asking him to stop.
How to Practice the Halt
Practice the halt by trotting or walking along the long side or down the centre line, half halting to add collection and engagement. It’s important here that you are hyper aware of whether you are sitting straight and whether your horse is travelling straight. You want him to feel as though he is a train travelling on straight train tracks created by your legs, seat, and hands. If he is drifting one way or another, bring the shoulders or quarters across to counteract this.
A couple of meters before you plan to halt, sit slightly deeper and stop your hips from following the movement of the horse. Squeeze him forwards with a supporting leg into a soft but non-yielding hand – this is riding the full halt instead of the half halt. As soon as he halts, relax your rein aids. If your horse isn’t square, you can ask with your leg and/or a schooling whip for a half step forwards with the leg that is out of place. Always ask for the correction forwards rather than backwards. If your horse steps backwards, correct with more driving aids.
Remember to stay in the halt for a few seconds before moving away each time, so that your horse learns to stand immobile while waiting for your next aid.
Tips and Tricks to Help You Get a Straight and Square Halt
If you are really struggling to get the halt straight and square, you might need a bit of an extra helping hand. Employing one of these tactics can sometimes help a horse and rider get the feeling for a good halt, which can then be ridden without any “tricks.”
- Try the halt after a line of walk or trot poles. This helps to engage the horse’s hindquarters, which usually improves the quality of the halt.
- Work on the halt in-hand with a long whip and a bridle. Here you can easily see if the horse isn’t straight or square, and can correct it more easily. You can also get a skilled horse person to help you generate more activity in the walk or trot on the ground right before the halt to help the horse understand the idea of going forward and remaining engaged throughout the transition to halt.
- Ride a couple of steps of leg-yield in each direction before halting – this can help to make sure the horse is travelling into both reins equally
- Come away from the wall. Some horses find halting on the long side easier as the wall can create a barrier on one side and keep them straight. Depending on your horse and your arena set up though, sometimes the wall can have the opposite effect. If you find your horse is drifting towards the wall, ride the halt a few meters in from the outside track.
So there you have it! The key to riding a square and straight halt is in developing your feel and remembering that even a transition to a complete standstill should be ridden with activity and engagement.
What have you done to teach a horse who struggled to halt square and straight? Let us know in the comments!